Iceland Itinerary

Having been to Iceland in 2012, I get questions about our trip now that it’s becoming a more popular destination for vacations and holidays. Below is an adaption of the email I save for such questions. Comment below if you have your own questions since they may help others!

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We went for 1 week in April, I think 6 nights there. Their seasons are actually not too different from say, Boston’s. When I tell people that we flew out of Boston and it was only about a 4 hour flight, they’re surprised! Even though Iceland is part of Europe, it’s really not that far nor different than we’re already used to (if you live in the Northeast) Although the weather isn’t as crazy as you might think, the sunlight can vary a lot more than the States: very long days in the summer and very dark in the winter. In general, I don’t think it’s advisable to go anytime in the winter due to harsher conditions and a lot less light!
When you first get to the airport, get your rental car. Iceland is so easy to navigate because there is essentially 1 main road around the whole country..for the side roads, your GPS will help and ours was accurate. Do NOT rent from SAD cars. We did because they were fairly cheap…yes that’ the real name and yes, we were sad when they didn’t pick us up from the airport for 3-4 hours b/c the dude was sleeping….go with Hertz or a company that is based in the airport, even if it’s a little more expensive. We made reservations for the rental car in advance. We had a little 2 door Yaris which was perfect. I thought we might need a 4 wheel drive SUV, but the ring road is like any road in the States and was fine since it was spring. If you are going in the winter, you might need a 4×4. Check forums like TripAdvisor about that.
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When you get to the airport you’ll arrive very early (7am ish), so pick up your rental car and go first to the blue lagoon b/c most hotels don’t check you in that early anyway. Kristin really loves the spa stuff so we did the Blue Lagoon on the way in and way out. Expensive, but you’ll never go to another place like it. We did 4 nights staying in Reykjavik (hotel was called “room with a view”) The hotel was great b/c it had a kitchen and we bought food to cook (Iceland can be expensive to eat) and it was in a perfect central location. Reykjavik is known for their bar scene so people are out until 2-4am even on weeknights. This can be good if you are looking to party; not good if you are looking to sleep. Reykjavik is a neat little city, and definitely walkable, but you probably don’t need more than a day or two to explore. There is a cool church and a couple of main streets to do some shopping. Two nights were in the countryside (Hotel Hamar) to see the northern lights (which we didn’t b/c it was foggy..oh well) It was ok, but since we were really just there for the northern lights, we didn’t do much except a day trip to see some waterfalls.
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If you have longer than a week I would totally recommend driving around the ring road for the whole country. Even if you don’t, I would still be open to the idea of changing hotels every night or every couple of nights in order to do an out-and-back drive along the south coast. We didn’t get to the far east coast and that’s where some of the cool glaciers were. From Reykjavik it is super easy to get to the golden triangle (Thingvellir, Gullfoss, etc) and up north to some of the fjords….but looking back we wish we didn’t book the same hotel for 4 nights and instead had the freedom or the planning to drive and stop at a place, then the next day continue along the coast, stop, etc. You can literally drive around the ring road without a plan and just stop wherever there’s a blue sign marking a waterfall…AMAZING falls.
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If I had to change our itinerary, I would get a hotel in Reykjavik for the first night or 2. This will let you do a day in Reykjavik, a day to see the golden triangle, and a day to do anything else in that area if you wanted. Then I would drive along the southern coast and make stops along the way to see waterfalls, glaciers, animals, etc. (there was a place that is known for seal colonies, but we didn’t see any when we went) Then I would either go around the whole ring road (7-10 day trip…7 days would be rushed, 10 days would be perfect) or drive back to Reykjavik and stay a last night there before your flight. In terms of clothes, bring warm layers. It can get very windy and so the temp is not too bad (mid to high 30s but again, that was in April) but the wind makes it feel colder. If we were hiking (which was most of our days) then we would wear a base layer of clothing, a fleece layer, and then either a down sweater (thinner than a heavy down jacket) or a soft shell jacket. Hat and gloves are a must. Snacks too, since being hangry is the worst when you’re on vacation.

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Fixing Loss of Lumbar in the Deadlift

The deadlift is a great exercise for overall strength and transfers to a great deal of other movements and exercises. It can get a bad rap for being “dangerous” which is why form is critical. But how do we fix bad form?

When you look at the spine, the thoracic (upper back) has a natural kyphotic curve to it while the lumbar has a natural lordotic curve to it. In the case of an athlete’s shoulders leaning forward with a curved upper back, some would argue this is bad, while others would actually encourage this for competition since it allows the bar to stay lower to the ground. The reason some people are ok with it is that it is just an exaggeration of the kyphotic curve that is already in place. For the record, I coach new athletes to keep everything tight and as neutral as possible.

While kyphosis in the upper back is a debatable topic, kyphosis in the lower back (lumbar) is a more black and white issue. In a deadlift, if an athlete’s spine is curving in the opposite direction that is natural, we need to fix this.

Here’s an example of Brian, who was doing a deadlift workout – you can clearly see the change in lumbar as he initiates the deadlift. I believe this was 275#.

Most people would think it was the weight that was the issue. While this is partly true, I had him drop the weight to 135# and he STILL had this loss of lumbar. (no video of that unfortunately) So then I had him slow the movement down to 50% and this is what happened:

 

Still can work on it, but incredibly different than before. If I were doing a full PT with him, I’d have Brian add a little weight (20#) and have him deadlift at the same speed. If mechanics were faulty, we’d drop weight and/or slow it down even more. Because of the TUT (time under tension) with slower speeds, it makes sense to do slow reps at lower weight. Then we would play with different combinations of speed/weight/form to find a balance and promote positional and neurological strength.

Sometimes it’s not the weight, but rather the speed that we need to slow down. CrossFit is great because of the high intensity workouts, but there are two prerequisites to Intensity – Mechanics and Consistency. (for those of you old enough, remember MCI phone service??) Show me you can do a movement well, then show me you can be consistent with it. THEN we can do it at high intensity.

 

5 Ways to Lean Out That Have Nothing to Do with Food

I strongly dislike the term “losing* weight.” “Losing weight” can mean anything: clothes? bones? brain matter?? When people say they want to “lose weight” what they typically mean is that they want to lose fat, or what many refer to as “leaning out.”

[*As much as I dislike the term “losing weight,” “loosing weight” is even worse.]

Most professionals would agree that your body composition is largely due to your diet. Those percentages can range anywhere from 80-95%, but what about the other 5-20% of your life? There are other factors we need to think about if we are looking to lean out.

1. SLEEP
Your diet can be full of leafy green vegetables, grass-fed protein, and good fats, but if you’re sleeping 4 hours a night, you’re probably still not in great shape. Sleep is your body’s chance to reset. Lack of sleep means that appetite hormones such as leptin and ghrelin are thrown off, your stress hormone cortisol is sky-high, and your brain won’t make great decisions during the day, especially when it comes to food. For people working the night shift, it’s even worse news. Even if you’re getting 8+ hours of sleep during the day, your circadian rhythm is thrown off and you experience similar effects of only getting a few hours sleep. In an ideal world, you’re getting 8+ uninterrupted hours of sleep in a cool, dark room at night.

2. RELAX
Whatever that means for you, relax and have fun. Spend time with friends, go for a walk with your family, listen to your favorite music, get a massage, etc. The goal here is to lower stress. Lowering stress lowers cortisol and lowering chronic cortisol is a good thing. Cortisol is not inherently a bad thing – it’s part of the fight-or-flight response to danger. But if we are consistently stressed out, this hormone will tend to store fat along the midsection and mess with other non-essential functions including our memory and immune system.

3. STRENGTH TRAIN
One of the best ways to lean out is to strength train and build muscle. The goal here is not to burn calories WHILE exercising (a common misconception), but to build an engine that will burn fat throughout the day. Muscle is very expensive tissue – it takes a lot of calories to maintain muscle compared to fat, so let’s take advantage of this fact. This goes for men and women alike – put those 5 lb. dumbbells down and pick up a barbell. Compound movements such as the back squat, deadlift, and push press are all great muscle builders. Women: that “toning” that you want? This is the best way to get it. Bulking up like a professional body builder won’t happen the way you think it might. As an initial goal, men should be able to squat 1.5x bodyweight and women should be able to squat 1x bodyweight.

4. SPRINT
Sprinting can be in the traditional sense of running, but it can also be any acute, high-intensity exercise. The benefits are almost too many to list: fat loss, better insulin sensitivity, increased growth hormone to build muscle, better circulation and heart health, etc. Sprinting is efficient, easy to do (no equipment needed!) and has a myriad of benefits that I’ve already listed and that you can Google. Only once or twice a week is needed – that’s how potent these things are. Do a hill sprint every 2 minutes for 14 minutes and you’ll know what I mean.

5. GET VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is actually not even a vitamin, it’s a hormone and it’s essential. It’s incredibly good at countering stress (cortisol), increasing bone density, increasing testosterone, boosting the immune system, and reducing inflammation – all things related to leaning out. The best way to get vitamin D is directly from the sun. It only takes 15 minutes to get the best exposure from the sun, but in winter months or cloudy days, you may want to grab some Vitamin D3 from a store. You should do some research on how much to take – I find that most brands will recommend far less than is actually optimal. You might find recommended doses of 400 IU on the bottle, but I’ve read about people taking upwards of 20-40,000 IU. Personally if it’s winter or dark out, I’ll take 8-12,000 IU and don’t experience any negative side effects. Depending on your skin tone and other factors, your mileage may vary, so do your own research.

What you put through your pie hole absolutely matters when it comes to health and body composition. But there are a few other factors to keep in mind that aren’t related to food. Getting quality sleep, reducing your stress, strength training, sprinting, and getting adequate Vitamin D are all going to help you lean out. Instead of trying to do all things at once, pick one that you think is achievable and set a goal of being consistent with that for two weeks. If you can do that, add another element and continue in this fashion until you hit all five.

Lastly, don’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of good. Yes, in a perfect world you’re getting 9 hours of sleep in a cool dark room. If you are improving from 4 hours to 7 hours interrupted by a crying baby, is that failure? No way! (Am I speaking from personal experience? Maybe) We’re all on a journey and will have different priorities at different times in our lives. Do what’s best for you right now and don’t worry about everyone else. Do you.